Hello friends, members, and supporters,
It is with heavy hearts that we must officially announce the end of the Calgary Centre for Sex Positive Culture. The Centre, a non-profit Society, will be legally dissolved as of August 27th, 2018. The physical location will be closed as of the same date.
As much as it breaks our hearts to have to make this decision, it is the only decision we have available to us at this time.
We made it almost two years. We had been hoping for much, much longer.
We appreciate, from the bottom or our hearts, all of the love and support we’ve received from our members, the community at large, and – especially – from our volunteers.
We know that the Centre has made a difference. The culture of consent and the recognition of what that looks like in our community has improved. Many, many people over the last two years have been able to have new experiences, learn, grow, make new friends, meet new partners, and feel welcome and supported while they pushed their own comfort zones and explored sexuality in a positive, accepting environment. We’re proud of what we’ve helped this community to accomplish over that time. We’re proud of the community, and the growth and connections that you’ve experienced.
While we are sad to have to end this grand experiment, we’re grateful, more than anything, to have been able to go through the experience, and to have touched so many lives.
Our overall message here is simply this: We have loved being a part of this, we put everything we had into it, and we wish it could have continued. We appreciate every single person who volunteered, donated, attended an event, or even shared a Centre event on social media or Fet. All of you helped this amazing thing happen.
If you’re not into the dissecting of corpses, or the digging into the depths of who did what, creating innuendo, and blaming people for things, you probably don’t want to read any further. If you ARE one of those people who insists on digging until you know all the dirty details, well, rather than let rumor and rancour and mud-slinging rule the day, we offer this:
There are a lot of rumors and theories out there, we know. So, here’s the story, as best as we can tell it.
The Centre was conceived in 2015, when our founder and initial President brought together a number of people from diverse segments of the Calgary community. People who were sex positive, and who were willing to give of their time, energy, and even money, to consider creating an organization and space to allow sex positive community to thrive in the city. That first exploratory committee meeting happened in November, 2015.
With lots of work, and with great humans both adding to and leaving from the committee, the Centre was organized as a not-for-profit Society, a space was procured, a TON of volunteer work was completed, and we opened our doors with a bang, in September of 2016. Lee Harrington was our first presenter, and the reception was amazing!
Once the Centre was officially registered as a non-profit, a Board of Directors was formed, consisting of a combination of some of the original steering committee and some new volunteers as well.
The Centre gradually added more and more members and managed to go from a completely subsidized organization to being only partially subsidized. In other words, we were able to put the funds from memberships and workshop entry fees towards making improvements to the space, AND still had a bit left over to pay part of our rent with.
Unfortunately, the space required a LOT of improvements. Fortunately, we were still able to bring in great presenters, and grow the membership base as word spread. Also fortunately, we still had a founding member willing to loan the Centre funds to keep operating.
We were gradually making progress that first year and were almost to the point of positive cash flow (and beginning to repay some of those loans), when our old location got sold to a developer, who elected not to renew our lease – just shy of our 1-year anniversary.
It was apparent that the community appreciated and supported the Centre and wanted it to continue. So, at that point, the Board went looking for a new space.
Unfortunately, the real estate market at that time was difficult to navigate. Our choices were small spaces that would require significant investment to make even marginally workable, or spaces that were much too large for our needs and budget. We also had to contend with the large number of landlords who were very strongly opposed to the Centre’s mission, and who would not even consider leasing space to us.
Because of these difficulties, it took longer to find space than we had hoped, and we had to cease operations for several months. As this was right at our 1-year anniversary, that meant that, in addition to not being able to bring in new revenues from events during those months, we also were unable to collect renewals of memberships from the existing members (in fact, we extended those memberships by 2-3 months). Which meant that we didn’t have any money coming in while we secured the new location.
Still, even with all of those challenges, we did, eventually, secure that new location. This location was bigger than the original, which gave us many more options – including being more attractive to other organizations looking for space to rent. There was (it seemed), a very high likelihood that we would be able to get cash-flows up to the point where we could more than cover both the costs of renovation, and the higher rents that the new location would require. We were even able to negotiate a discount on the rent for the first few months.
We knew that it would be a stretch for a while, but we were optimistic – in large part because of the verbal and volunteer support we had been receiving from the community – that the community would support the Centre, and that we could continue to grow and make this work.
Our Board member loaned the Centre enough to keep going, and our amazing volunteers chipped in and did a lot of work that would have otherwise cost thousands of dollars. And, eventually, in November of 2017, we were open again!
But the break had killed our momentum, and we had missed out on what were traditionally some of the most active months for Community activities. Growth wasn’t as robust as we would have liked. It was still there, but not as fast or as strong as predicted. Still, we reasoned, the growth was there, and we were starting to pick up more renters, and there was a list of folks who wanted to talk about renting the space. So, we soldiered on.
Then, through a series of medical, emotional, and other challenges, the Board found themselves with Members who weren’t able to fulfill all of their duties. Things started slipping through the cracks here and there. Nothing major, and no one Board member was to blame. But, as a Board, we could have, and should have (we feel), done a better job of figuring out sooner what needed to be done, and how to do it. We didn’t. That’s on us – both current and past Board members.
We did, eventually, do what needed doing, and the Board was shuffled a bit. Some members stepped down, some positions and responsibilities got reassigned. In the transition, we didn’t see quite how bad things were, financially speaking. We didn’t have complete or completely reliable data in some cases. There were trends, but we didn’t see just how significant they were. Again, that’s on us.
We knew there was trouble, but we didn’t know how bad it was. We were working hard and making progress on the cash-flow issues – even planning for our second anniversary party, and our first Open General Meeting and vote for new Board members - as the end of July approached.
Then, the August long weekend happened. As sometimes happens in our community, people disagreed with one another, over legitimate, highly emotional issues. The disagreements were deep, and strong, and (as so often happens) people took stands that others – others who loved one another – found indefensible. Harsh words were said, feelings were hurt, friendships damaged. Our community is still trying to recover from this. Our Board was not immune to the damage.
At this point, EVERYONE involved with the Board - regardless of how they felt about one another, or about any other subject – agreed that they wanted the Centre to continue, and that the “good of the Centre” needed to outweigh any personal feelings. Offers to resign were made. None were accepted immediately, but it was agreed that the Board could not continue as it had been.
Several options were considered, including the entire existing Board standing down and handing the Centre over to an interim President, to oversee elections of a new Board. It was while we were in the process of pursuing this option that the financial situation of the Centre received a good, hard, neutral examination. It was pointed out that the Centre needed to basically double its monthly income in order to pay the current expenses and begin paying down debts.
During this process, we were also informed that we were going to have to make some significant upgrades to the space, just to meet code and secure new permits from the City. We had known that there would be some upgrades required (in fact, we’d had a successful fundraiser just for that purpose), but the cost estimates we received at this point were 200%-300% higher than we had originally been led to expect. $10,000 or more.
At this point, realizing that we were already going to have to increase monthly income significantly just to cover (the soon-to-increase) rent and utilities costs, adding an extra $10,000 in upgrades meant that we had to face the bitter, cold truth: There was no way that the Centre was going to be able to cover its costs. It would be unfair and untenable to pass the Centre (and its financial obligations) on to another Board. Especially since there was no more money to be borrowed from Board members.
Thus, it has fallen to us to make the unhappy decision to dissolve the Society.
There have been hints at mismanagement of the Centre. Some of that might be fair. We don’t pretend that we’re perfect, or that the Board members (present or past) made all the right decisions. Clearly, we wouldn’t be here now if we had.
The biggest mistake the Board in its various iterations over the past few years has made was to be too optimistic. Had we been more “on the ball,” however, it would not have saved the Centre, as some may claim. We would have, at best, recognized earlier that the Centre wasn’t making it, and shut things down sooner – possibly as far back as August of 2016, when we were told that we were being evicted from our original space.
Some have insinuated that one or more persons on the Board may have been financially benefiting from the Centre. The Centre has often been referred to – incorrectly – as a business, or as being “owned by” some single individual. The Centre has been registered as a legal, non-profit Society since Day 1. All of the Board members, past and present, have donated their own time, equipment, and money to get the Centre started, and to keep it running to this point. More than $20,000 have been donated or lent to the Centre by Board members – including one of us taking out a personal line of credit (and paying the interest on that line of credit out of their own pockets) to keep the doors open. By closing the Centre, one of our Board members is accepting a 5-figure personal financial loss.
So it comes down to this: unfortunately, challenges with locations led us to some unsustainable costs. The Centre has been operating at a negative cash-flow (losing money) for most of its existence. We had reached a positive monthly cash-flow position (meaning we were finally able to start making payments on our debts) just before we had to move from our original location. While the new space has been amazing, and very well received, and while there has been amazing community support, that support alone has not been enough to cover the difference. The Centre has been fortunate to be supported by loans from one of the Board members, but it’s come to the point where we’ve exhausted that capacity.
We are sorry, heartbroken, that we couldn’t continue to make the space available. We did look at other options. We had people ask (again, assuming that the Centre was a for-profit business) what it would take to buy the Centre from the presumed “owner.” When we responded with the amount needed just to clear the loans, we were laughed at, told the Centre “isn’t worth that much,” and even told to “quit wasting [their] time.”
Please let that sink in.
The Centre was never about making a profit (legally, we couldn’t have done so). Every single Board member was a volunteer. No one was paid a salary. When we had good months, we were able to reimburse some of the money spent on Cavi, candy, pop, and other supplies. Some – not all.
So, yeah, we could have done this better. We own that. We’ll wear that. We’ll forever be saddened by that. We had a dream, and we (with MUCH help and support), brought that dream to life for the better part of two glorious years. We wish it could have been longer, but we’re grateful as hell that we got what we got.